LACUNA COIL's slower, more raw and goth-inflected sound on its earlier records has been replaced by an expansive and definitely American-influenced style on its fourth full-length album, "Karmacode". Strings, multi-tracked vocals, a large and polished production and Middle Eastern flavorings all contribute to making this the band's most ambitious project yet. But with a lot riding on it (the group's U.S. breakthrough, 2002's "Comalies", is Century Media's best-selling album ever), "Karmacode" cannot turn all its bells and whistles into an album full of consistently great songs.
While it's true that "Karmacode" is the band's most uptempo album in many ways, the American influence is keenly felt in many of the tunes, which lock into the same mid-paced, somewhat droning groove favored by U.S. metal acts during the last decade. The disc's opening three-pack of "Fragile", "To The Edge" and "Our Truth", for example, sound almost like one unbroken song, with the kind of indistinguishable chugging guitars often employed by bands like SEVENDUST. The fourth song, "Within Me", comes across more as a generic grab at American radio play than a truly heartfelt ballad, with singer Cristina Scabbia's vocals overdubbed into the same kind of overproduced territory explored by a confection like EVANESCENCE.
Scabbia is still the band's best asset, with a confident delivery that balances well between ballsiness and an angelic delicacy, yet the production tends to bury her in the songs' choruses. When she's upfront, however, she's as strong and hypnotic as ever. Male vocalist Andrea Ferro, on the other hand, remains a one-dimensional presence through much of the album ("Devoted" is an exception), although the group has learned how to integrate the two more seamlessly into the tunes.
It's just a shame that many of the tunes themselves fail to make a lasting impact after several listens, with the cover of DEPECHE MODE's "Enjoy the Silence" the most memorable song on the album (Scabbia's reading of it is especially heart-melting). Although LACUNA COIL does retain its own identity and mostly avoids the trap of becoming the "European EVANESCENCE" that many expected them to morph into, "Karmacode" has much going for it but still falls short of the definitive effort the band clearly aspired to make.